When I found out I was pregnant, I had really high hopes of being able to go into labor naturally. With Grace, I was diagnosed with hypertension at 35 weeks and spent the following 4 weeks on bed rest until my induction at 39 weeks. In and out of triage, countless NSTs. I desperately wanted to have a different kind of pregnancy this time… but I loved the birth experience. This time, I had these dreams of my water breaking at home, leaving Grace with one of our mamas and then booking it to the hospital to give birth, finding comfort in letting my body start on its own timing – and getting the sweet calming relief of an epidural that made a world of difference for me mentally before when things got intense.
I actively tried to do what I could to avoid an induction. I exercised between 3-5x/week up until 32 weeks when my sciatic pain became unbearable. I took baby aspirin daily at the recommendation of my doctor. At 20 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with a short cervix. I was then referred to Maternal Fetal Medicine and saw the team there 5x between 21 and 30 weeks to look for any signs of funneling or shortening to hopefully prevent premature labor. All was well and unchanging, praise God! One of the doctors at MFM had me schedule a 36 week ultrasound to check on baby girl due to my history of hypertension. I honestly thought I was in the clear.
At 35 weeks, I had a few dizzy spells and took my blood pressure at home – it was high so I called in. I was instructed to go into triage where I was monitored for a few hours. My readings were elevated, but not hypertensive. Aside from late pregnancy, my readings are always in the 110/70s range. I was sent home thankfully!
When Corey and I went into MFM for my 36 week appointment, we were hoping Q would be cooperative for the ultrasound so we could get one last peek at her before meeting her in person. Everything seemed to go well during the ultrasound. Our tech told us that the doctor would be in and left the room. She returned a few minutes later and said that there was a considerable growth decline and that the doctor wanted her to take images of the umbilical cord. She did, then left the room again. A few minutes later, she came back and said I would be getting a non-stress test for the baby. At this point, we were a little confused but not yet worried. 2+ hours after our arrival time, the doctor finally came in. He told us that it looked like there was a knot in the umbilical cord, and due to Q dropping from the 44th percentile down to the 14th coupled with my history of hypertension, he was 80% sure that “this is going to be a 37-week baby, not a 39-week baby.” At this point I was 35 weeks, 6 days pregnant! He explained that there was no absolute way to confirm the perceived knot, and that sometimes they cause no problems whatsoever, and rarely they cause big problems. This was a Friday, and he had me schedule Monday and Thursday appointments the following week to closely monitor the umbilical cord and Q’s activity. I was instructed by our doctor to also check my blood pressure twice a day at home in between appointments, since it was not following a predictable pattern during my visits to both offices.
The following two appointments at MFM, as well as my weekly OBGYN appointment, were positive – nothing changed, good flow to baby through the umbilical cord, and although my blood pressure was elevated at some points, it was not dangerous.
On Monday, at 37 weeks, 2 days pregnant, I took my blood pressure in the evening at home as I had for days prior. The reading was 170/110. I was in complete denial. I felt fine… I insisted the monitor was defective and decided not to panic until I drank more water and laid down for a couple of hours. 2 hours later, I took it again and it read 165/95. Corey pushed me to call the nurse hotline. I was instructed to go back to triage. The nurse on the phone told me that I should not drive. I STILL was in denial. I insisted that Corey stay with Grace (it was around 10pm and she was asleep) and left the house with absolutely nothing other than my purse. I was fully expecting that I made a user error or had a faulty cuff and thought I would be sent home again.
Except… I wasn’t. My readings at the hospital were consistently high. As high as 190s/120s. The doctor walked into triage and said, “We’re going to deliver you tonight.” I felt my stomach drop. She left the room, came back in, and inserted the Foley bulb. I called Corey right away. My mom was at our house for Grace within minutes and Corey was by my side at the hospital within a half hour. I was admitted, moved to a room, and was given medication through my IV to lower my blood pressure. Within a half hour, I felt the most “clear” and alert that I had in weeks. I blamed my fatigue on being pregnant but it made me realize that I probably had been having unnoticed elevated pressures for a while. I was started immediately on Pitocin.
Induction started with the bulb at 2cm dilation around 11pm. At 2am, I was 4cm when the Foley bulb came out. I had contractions throughout the night and around 5am, they started to become regular. I didn’t get sleep, but I was in an exhausted, hazy state around 7am when the doctor came in and announced she was going to break my water. I was 5cm at this point. She broke my water – it felt so abrupt and quick (and painful) that I didn’t even process what was happening. I remember looking at Corey who had a totally shocked look on his face at how quickly things happened. I was asked if I wanted the epidural. I said yes. By 8am, I had gotten the epidural, but felt no relief from the contractions. I still could move my legs easily. I was having major back labor and at this point was not quiet about it! I insisted the epidural was not working, and was told a few times that it just took time. After about 20 minutes, the anesthesiologist was called to come back, but….
Around 8:30am, I started to completely panic when I realized that I was going to give birth without medication. I was terrified and everything was moving so fast. I felt Q move downward and recognized the feeling from my precious birth I. Lost. It. I held hold Corey’s hand and cried that I couldn’t do it as the nurses got the room ready and the midwife entered the room. I screamed through labor. At one point, the midwife asked what I was afraid of and I said “the pain” — but it wasn’t the pain. Truthfully, I remember feeling the ring of fire and thinking it wasn’t as painful as the contractions! I was afraid of this new feeling of having absolutely no control of my body or what happened next. I was afraid of the perceived knot and what it could mean for Quinn during labor. I was afraid of my high blood pressure… what was it? Am I going to have a stroke? When the midwife told me to stop pushing, I was afraid that something was wrong with Quinn and that no one would tell me since I was so emotional and panicked. But I couldn’t verbalize anything. I felt my body take over and there was no way I could stop from pushing during contractions.
Quinn Rose was born at 9:02am. I was relieved to hear her cry immediately, but when I looked down at her on my chest, her face was purple and swollen and I heard one of the nurses say that she had a fever. I asked multiple times if she was OK before I was told she was bruised (see photo). I just remember holding her and saying, “My baby, my baby.” NO knot was seen in the umbilical cord. I cry as I write this because she entered the world and met me at my weakest, but she was born so strong.
I never in a million years thought I would deliver a baby without medication! As much as I admired those who had, I thought it was something I could never do. I received compliments about my strength and about how awesome it was, but I didn’t feel strong or awesome, I felt shame! I insisted, “I had no choice!” I also felt embarrassed that my ideal birth included the epidural when many women choose and prepare for a natural labor.
What I didn’t expect in the weeks following was to have trouble processing everything. I was thankful we were healthy. I was relieved that my recovery was worlds better than my last. But I found myself obsessing over everything that happened. I would replay the screaming and fear. I would picture Quinn’s bruises and asking if she was OK without getting an answer. My heart would race and I would feel tightness in my chest and I would panic that my blood pressure was rising again. After realizing these physical responses were anxiety-related and as time passed, those feelings stopped. I never would have assumed that an unmedicated birth could be looked at as traumatic, but for me, it was – and that was a source of shame. I also thought screaming through labor and being scared made me weak. But, then I decided to take heart in what I tell Grace: you can be scared and brave at the same time. And isn’t that parenthood?
I replayed those 12 hours over and over and finally accepted that as scary as it all felt each moment, it all happened exactly as it was supposed to. Through the worries about short cervix, the perceived umbilical cord knot, her growth, all of the NSTs and ultrasounds, the high blood pressure – God already had our story written. He created and knew and loved Quinnie before we did. He brought a new closeness to our marriage that we hadn’t experienced before. He was so faithful as He always is and He held our family.